Bridget Coyne Gabbe, working actress and TMU contributor
With the end of 2011 comes my one-year anniversary of being back in New York fulltime, following a five-month educational theater tour right out of college. Before making resolutions for 2012, I reflect on some things I learned in 2011. Maybe some of these insights will come in handy as you journey along.
Keep working, keep going. Get out of your comfort zone! Challenge yourself to do new things that may be somewhat daunting. Projects that gave me test drives into new territory included writing and performing my own material - something I never would have imagined or been comfortable doing a year ago. I was the prop master for a musical and also designed costumes for a short film. Hey, who knew that recreating an authentic New York City cop uniform was technically illegal? (And, btw, I have two XXLs in my closet if needed.)
Stay in "school." Keep learning! I've taken classes and workshops at various places. Some are better than others. I took one class with a teacher who actively promoted close ties to a theater company, because it promised a final showcase at the end of the class for casting directors and everyone involved with the company. It never happened. Not cool. Fast forward to ESPA, the acting school at Primary Stages, a great community for actors, playwrights, and directors that pushes everyone to get involved and creates real opportunities to collaborate.
Value your time. I did a lot of pro bono work (yeah, fancy term for you ain't gettin' paid NUTTIN!). Why? Cause it seemed to create the potential of being seen and making contacts. Who could know? It's certainly true that actors - even those with some marquee punch - end up doing freebies, be they readings or workshops or benefits or whatever. It comes with the territory. But starting out, be acutely aware of what you say "yes" to; there are no "rules" for these kinds of projects. Be shrewd; value your time and talent.
Do your research. I assumed I needed an accent for a role - and worked very hard at getting it! - only to learn at the audition that the play was being set in the good ole' U. S. of A. The fault was mine. I didn't register the details (flashback to years of report cards citing "lacks attention to detail"). Sometimes, however, I've been handed problems because of erroneous or missing information. Never assume you have everything you need. Double check. Follow up. Make sure you really know the people who will be auditioning you, their body of work - and their style.
Be true to yourself. I went to an audition that I believed was for a cool indie film. Wrong! I walked into a room that was split between scantily clad young women - who had clearly read a different casting notice than I had - and the clueless like me. Turns out it was for a reality show looking for hot young thangs. While there are certain ego points to be scored by fitting into that category, it wasn't for me. I left. To further this point, I grabbed a pint with an Irish actor friend recently. He'd prepared for an audition in which his native dialect would have been appreciated but, once there, the director asked him to read with an American accent. He had the confidence to tell the director, "No, I'll do it the way I've prepared, and if you can see me in the role, perhaps you'll give me a callback after I've had a chance to work with a dialect coach." Guess what? He got the role. How do you say chutzpah in Gaelic?
Got an agent or manager? Fantastic, your marketing work is not over. You'll be most successful if you think of the relationship as a collaboration. That means know who you are as an actor and target what you want for parts. Let your agent or manager know about projects that excite you. Perhaps they can help get you in the door. And even if they come up with ideas that don't seem right - be flexible! Submit, submit, submit. It gets exhausting but every audition is practice, and you never know who'll be in the room. Even if you don't land the role, you're still being seen by new people, which is just as important!
Perspective is everything. It's easy to get impatient and to feel frustrated. "Why," I've asked myself frequently during my first year back in NYC, "haven't I been 'discovered'?" But a few days ago when I made a list of all the things I'd done, all the while doing what many aspiring actors do, working a fulltime day job, I thought, "Well hey there, not too shabby!" Gaining this kind of perspective helped me appreciate the steps I'd already climbed and better understand where I wanted to go - and how to get there. When things seem most trying, I'm learning to take a step back, take a deep breath and then move forward.
I'm thrilled to close this blog with a reflection from veteran actor Jay O. Sanders, fresh from his acclaimed performance as Titus Andronicus at the Public Theater. "Acting, at its best, is a quest for wholeness, providing an opportunity to help expand the human spirit through communal reflection."
Happy Holidays! See ya in the New Year!